Wednesday, 10 August 2016

The Sad Tale of a Lost Voice

Actually, this has nothing to do with being sick. This mezzo-soprano doesn't have a meltdown at the first sign of laryngitis. Rather, she treats it as the perfect reason not to answer the phone.

Instead, today I am going to mourn the sad little wet blanket of my author's voice.

I just spent a year pitching a novel I love very, very much to just over a hundred agents. Ignoring the unresponsive NORMANs, every agent who replied (except for one)* gave me a form reject. No personalisation, and certainly no requests for more pages. Absolutely no one was hooked enough to want to read more.

But I love this book to bits and really want it to go out in the great, wide world and do well. So I entered #PitchWars and stalked the feed.

The one thing the mentors are looking for? Works with voice. Or rather, V O I C E. Voice is the one thing a manuscript must have. They're confident they can fix anything else--craft issues, plot issues, character issues.  But voice is the must-have.

They're all raving about voice, which I find a bit depressing.

I'm thinking my author voice sucks.

How do you tell? Agents send you form rejections. Lots of 'em. And no requests for further material. They're just not interested in reading more.

I can't see my voice, I can't hear it, I can't define it. So how do I fix it?

I've had over two dozen critters and beta readers go over this, at at least five sets of eyes read the whole project straight through. They focus on characterisation, plot, everything. Rave about it, even. But nobody has ever said anything about voice.

"It's one of those things," others say. "Keep writing until you find your voice."

I've written twenty fricking books. If I haven't found my voice by now, how on earth is the twenty-first book going to help me find it? It's not like craft, where you can study up on how to do it, analyse others' works and take the gears apart to see what made it tick. It's not something that can be taught, they say.

I wish it was. I really wish I could look at my writing, see my voice, and see what made it work, or not, as the case is. I wish I could file the rough corners, tighten the rhythm, drench the words with liquid crack.

I want to keep readers up all night with my books because they don't dare put it down.

How do I do that?

*the one agent who gave me personalised feedback does so because I always query her, and she knows how hard I'm trying. She's a real sweetie and I respect her a lot professionally. Still, her reply does, to a degree, support the issue I'm having. My voice isn't so overwhelmingly alive it grabs her and she absolutely must consider adding me to her list.
I wish it was.

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